“Good morning Absel,” the older man said, scratching at his freshly shaven face. As he spoke, the metal of his jaw replacement could be seen sparkling beneath his tongue.
Absel tried to offer a smile as he sat there uncomfortably, having worn a suit only twice previously. “Good morning…”
“Cordon. Please feel free to call me by my first name.” Cordon reached down and grabbed a pencil and a pad of paper with one hand while allowing the other to brush through his graying hair.
“Old school I see,” Absel said, attempting to chit-chat.
“Nothing is better,” Cordon said with a wink, holding his pen in the air and wagging it before allowing it to lower and hover over the off-white paper.
Absel had an urge to look down for the third time that hour into the glass of his watch to see if his hair was parted how he had planned. If you want to work as one of them, you need to dress as one of them, he had thought that morning as he tiptoed out of the apartment he lived in, careful not to wake his roommates. Now five months out of university and still without a job, his anxiety was fully developed in regards to his career expectations. Absel opened his mouth to speak again, but halted when Cordon cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows.
“So, why have you decided to apply here?” The older man asked.
Absel smiled and leaned forward. “I believe that I would be a great fit, especially considering-”
“Ah, you took a semester of finite math, but never followed it with mathematical comprehension, why?”
Having heard the question previously and knowing what it led to, Absel continued to smile, but his eyes began to lose excitement. “Well,” Absel explained, “I wanted to find additional opportunities to learn about epigenetic expression.”
“Interesting,” Codon said, scribbling away and offering the response Absel was hoping for.
“I know that mathematical comprehension plays a part in regulating it, but without understanding the opportunities that the expressions themselves convey, there’s no point to randomly design new ones.” Hoping to avoid the follow-up question of why he didn’t take both classes, Absel continued. “Only a human mind can fully grasp what opportunities future alterations to the genome would-”
“Why didn’t you take both?” Cordon asked.
Absel sighed and leaned back slightly in his plastic and metal chair. The soft yellow glow of the light above him was beginning to feel harsh, even though his surroundings of trees and ferns were calm, as all interview rooms were meant to be.
“Money,” Absel blurted out finally.
Cordon laughed. “I know what you mean.” He stopped scribbling and shook his head. “When I was in my prime school going full-time, my friends and I were going for anything that might matter. Nowadays you have to prove your thinking skills over and over if you want the right position.”
“Or you can just create a relevant gene therapy program in high school and be set for life,” Absel said in a gruff tone.
Cordon chuckled, showing his teeth fully, the metal ones on bottom standing out. “Sadly, we all can’t be like Scott Lorenson.” Cordon tapped his pen against the plastic armrest of his chair and then leaned back. “You know what?” He asked. “Let’s go on a walk…” He stood up and set his pen and paper on the seat behind him.
Absel nearly jumped up, unsure of what to say. He followed his interviewer along the brick path between trees up to a metal door that slid open after being presented a wave.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Cordon said as he reached for a capsule that had been sitting in his shirt pocket. “Ah, guilty pleasure,” he noted, waving the pill in the air and then popping it into his mouth. His eyelids closed for a moment and a wave of pleasure came across his face as the capsule settled in between his teeth and tongue. “Es orrible or you… ook my jaw from me, afer all.” He pressed his tongue hard against the capsule and walked forward, his speech returning to normal as the drugs passed through his system. “I trust that you know what we do here son?”
“Of course,” Absel answered. “I’ve watched Spiral and Ladder Incorporated since I was a freshman.” There wasn’t much else to watch… He thought.
After all, there were only four areas that people truly made money in anymore. Religion, genetics, atomically precise manufacturing and real estate were the only industries left that offered prosperity. Even real estate was quickly becoming too difficult to enter into, with governments rapidly absorbing most of the off-world assets and placing regulations on imports from those that corporations and individuals had claimed.
“You think you have what it takes to become a disease engineer?” Cordon asked as the two of them sauntered down the corridor, their shoes clacking against the crimson tile floor.
“Absolutely,” Absel said with conviction. “In my capstone, I utilized Marburg and managed to create a virus that was able to remove cataracts without affecting normal eye tissue.”
Walking past paintings that sat on a beige wall, the two of them stopped in front of a lab where two technicians were working, fully encased in personal protective equipment that was meant to keep out even the smallest diseases.
Cordon’s eyebrows rose as the man nodded. “Ah… How did you ensure its effects were contained to the clumped proteins?”
“I focused not on the protein, but the clump.” Absel began to speak faster, excited that he was finally able to explain his prized experiment. “I had a 99% success rate by programming the virus to affect tissue based on whether or not it was able to observe light, rather than whether the cells it was attacking had the appropriate protein.”
“Very… interesting,” Cordon said, turning away from the window and scientists beyond and walking once again down the hallway.
As Absel followed, his attention was diverted to two of the more unique paintings along the walls. “Are those originals?” He asked, his mouth partially open as he continued to stare while they walked.
“Eh heh, of course,” Cordon said with a grin. “Do you know the names?”
“Certainly… ‘Pyramid of Skulls’ by Paul Cezanne and ‘Still Life with Glass of Absinthe’ by Vincent Van Gogh… how did you get the originals?”
“On rent, of course,” Cordon said with a wink. “The full title is ‘Still Life with Glass of Absinthe and a Carafe’. Remember that.”
Absel nodded. He followed past additional windows, some looking out on the hundreds of machines that actually accomplished the pharmaceutical processing or worked to label and package containers that would be shipped to hospitals, each full of their own automated staffs. There were still nurses, of course. Companionship was difficult and likely impossible to replace, but the rest of the healthcare process could be automated, just as the transportation and the financial industries were.
I might actually get this one, Absel thought, unable to keep his grin away. I won’t have to be like Liam or Ethan, working as a Landfill technician and sorting through humanity’s garbage and the re-opened dumps to find old treasures. I suppose it’s good they still need humans for that job… too much of a pain to get computers to see what’s an antique clock or a journal that might have historic data in it, all written in cursive of course.
“What would you say if I provided a challenge for you?” Cordon asked, pulling tight at his tan suit and waving his hand to open a metal door near the end of the hallway.
“What kind of challenge?” Absel asked, following Cordon into the clean room that stood between the hallway and the research lab beyond.
“I’d like to see your splicing skills,” Cordon explained, shrugging as he pressed a button on the wall, causing the door behind them to close and another in front to open. “A simple test of your abilities.”
“I’d love to,” Absel said quickly, walking into the room and grinning at the many pieces of equipment that sparkled around him. He’d used very few of them, but had read about the many alterations they could make to microscopic organisms.
“What would this job mean to you?” Cordon asked.
“It means quite a bit sir,” Absel said, thinking of the many friends who had committed suicide in the past five years because there was no work. A few had made it into an industry and others found religion, but so many had just decided to end it all. It wasn’t because they were homeless or starving though. After all, when the robots came, there was plenty for everyone. The problem was that people finally had time to think, and most couldn’t stand it. Abigail, Mia and James all decided that this world was too much… I can’t end up like that. I can’t…
“Are you alright son?” Cordon asked, walking back toward the door as Absel stood in the middle of the room, leaning onto one of the metal tables that sat there.
“This job,” Absel said softly. “It’s life or death for me.”
Cordon nodded. “Appropriate use of words.” He walked into the clean room and pressed the button on the wall, closing the door to the research lab and separating himself from Absel. Cordon walked back out into the hall and moved over in front of the window, so that Absel could see him.
“What’s going on?” Absel asked, his right hand beginning to shake as his eyes searched frantically for the button or gesture that would allow him to open the door once again.
“A final test,” Cordon said with a slight grin. His eyes peered up to the corners of the room, where glass vials dropped from. Two of them shattered on the floor and a third bounced across the hard surface but refused to open. “One of them is enough.” Cordon explained. “You have three hours to manufacture a cure.”
“What?” Absel tried to say, the word barely escaping his mouth.
“I have faith in you son,” Cordon said. “I’ll even give you a hint… it’s an altered form of the Ravn virus. Shouldn’t be too difficult for a student like yourself, as it’s not too different from Marburg.”
“Wait, I…” Absel started to say.
“Good luck!” Cordon said with a thumbs-up before promptly walking off.
“Co-Cordon,” Absel said as a cough escaped his lungs. He scanned the room and searched for the machines he needed to complete the job. Two hours… just two hours… He coughed again and stumbled forward to grab a set of slides before heading over to one of the dropped vials. Two hours… at least that’s one more than I got in the last interview…